Irma? Who’s she? Evacuees can relax (briefly) at Braves-Marlins during ‘uncomfortable’ waiting game

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Thomas and Ashley from Hialeah.

Teofilo and Juliana from Sunny Isles.

Jim and Suzie from the Villages.

Jim and Annie from Davenport.

And Alejandro and Silvia from Pinecrest.

Last names and backgrounds didn’t matter. Neither did ages or bank accounts.

They were perfect strangers. But they are, for a few days at least, all the same.

They were a small part of the great Florida Diaspora of 2017.

They are evacuees, fleeing their homes (and their families) from Hurricane Irma, the most dangerous storm to hit mainland Florida in recorded history.

And for three hours Friday, they finally were able to breathe.

The Braves’ sparkling new stadium hosted a baseball game between Atlanta and Miami’s baseball teams.

The score didn’t matter. Neither of these teams will be playing in October.

But this was something greater than 54 outs of baseball. It was group therapy.

Credit the Braves. They’re giving free tickets to this weekend’s series — ironically, against the Marlins — to anyone with a Florida ID. Hundreds took them up on the offer. Approximately 2,700 from evacuation zones in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina received free tickets to Friday’s game.

The line of Floridians at the box office snaked around the stadium.

“It’s a wonderful gesture,” said Thomas Barreto, 21, who left eight members of his family back in Dade County because the father-to-be was being, well, a father-to-be.

He was worried about the health and safety of Ashley Alonso, who’s six months pregnant with their baby, and so they left Hialeah at 1 a.m. Thursday morning and made the 16-hour drive north.

Oh yes, that drive. You know that jaw-dropping video of endless gridlock on Florida’s major highways the last few days?

These were the people behind the wheel. Yet a bunch of them wiped the sleep from their eyes, grabbed a cold beer or two, put on Marlins gear, and went to the game.

“They put a little pressure on us to leave [home],” said Jim Smith.

“They” refers to daughter Elizabeth and her family. “Us” is Jim and wife Suzie, who lived in South Florida for years before retiring to the Villages.

“We got a couple of obscene phone calls,” Suzie quipped.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith are staying with Elizabeth in Atlanta. Thomas and Ashley were lucky enough to find a hotel room.

Teofilo and Juliana Soares didn’t have a choice. They live in an evacuation zone in Sunny Isles, so they packed up their two kids and left Thursday morning.

The story was the same for Alejandro and Silvia Messmacher, who moved to Pinecrest from Mexico four years ago.

They’re unsure — and a little scared — of what they’ll find when they return home.

“It’s going to be uncomfortable for a few days,” Alejandro said, waiting in line for tickets Friday. “But it’s better to be safe.”

Worried?

“A little,” Silvia conceded.

Son Santiago is a junior offensive lineman at Palmer Trinity. His worries are a teenager’s concerns: will he have a football season when he gets back?

As for Annie Vandendriessche, she might be wondering why she moved to Florida from Wisconsin. This is her first hurricane season, and her home in the Orlando area didn’t have shutters.

So even though she’s known neighbor Jim Coakley for just a couple of weeks, she gladly took him up on his offer to escape.

They’re staying with friends in Atlanta and plan to go home Tuesday or Wednesday.

But like everything else this week, that’s subject to change.

“I’ve never been through one before, and this is massive,” she said.


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